By SHANNON O. WELLS
At its Nov. 2 meeting, Faculty Assembly approved a policy establishing requirements for faculty working on temporary assignments with government or other academic institutions and a resolution on the defense and importance of academic freedom at Pitt.
The Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) provides requirements for faculty and staff, as well as their supervisors, to follow during participation in the Intergovernmental Personnel Act Mobility Program. The program provides for the temporary assignment of personnel between the federal government and state and local governments, colleges and universities, and other eligible organizations.
Approved by the Senate Research Committee in October, the policy is meant to accommodate faculty members working with or recruited by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or other government entities and universities for periods typically between two and four years.
“The idea is that they can share their knowledge with the NIH as part of their position, and that they also can learn and then take back information and their new understanding back to the university,” said Melanie Scott, Research Committee co-chair. “It was seen as being beneficial to both the governmental institution as well as the academic institution, and so this policy was set up.”
The policy clarifies elements such as qualifications, cost-sharing, responsibilities to Pitt departments and supervisors, and making arrangements and assignments for students. It allows the University to hold the faculty member’s job open so they can return to the position — or the most similar position still available — once their outside assignment is completed.
“And this is happening quite frequently,” noted Scott, who said the administration typically tracks 10 to 15 such assignments across the University each academic year. “And more if you consider the (Veterans Administration), which this policy does not actually consider” because of intricate eligibility requirements and coverage by other policies, she noted. “So this policy basically outlines the conditions that need to be met for somebody to be eligible for how a faculty (or staff) member … can set up their information to present to a supervisor.”
It subsequently helps the supervisor understand what their position is and how they can deal with leaving the job open and make plans for the faculty member to return at a specific time.
Pitt’s policy is based on intergovernmental personnel acts adopted by other academic institutions “and just was sort of tweaked for specific things that occur at Pitt or the way that things work here,” Scott noted.
Calling the policy adoption a “measure of maturation of the University,” Carey Balaban, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, recalled when such inter-agency work arrangements were set up on a case-by-case basis.
“Having been familiar with (that experience), I think it’s handled quite well by the policy,” he said, praising the thoroughness of the Frequently Asked Questions section. “This will facilitate more of this kind of activity, and the fact that the faculty asks about these opportunities is really something that we should be proud of, is really a measure of our maturation as a research institution.”
Responding to a question, Scott affirmed it would be conflict of interest if someone on temporary assignment with NIH or a similar agency is receiving or applying for grant money related to their permanent position at Pitt.
The policy calls for the staff or faculty member working with another entity to present a plan outlining what’s going to happen with their grants, “who’s going to take over those grants, who’s going to take over their teaching responsibilities, and to work with the supervisor and the chair of the department to try to come up with a plan for that so this runs smoothly.”
The policy, she added, “basically asks a set of questions (and) sets up the idea that people should be considering these points in their planning so things run more smoothly than they have in the past.”
Put to the Faculty Assembly for a vote, the policy passed with 40 approving, zero “no” votes and five abstentions.
Academic freedom policy
Faculty Assembly also passed a resolution intended to increase the visibility and inclusiveness of Pitt’s academic freedom policy and related statements. Described as a “call to action,” the document forwarded from the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee, which approved the resolution on June 1, asks Faculty Assembly to recommend the University administration and Board of Trustees:
1) Better articulate academic freedom as a core University value.
2) Develop specific policies and procedures on academic freedom as it applies to all University scholars and actions necessary to maintain it.
3) Continue to protect academic freedom against all threats, whether arising internally or externally.
The first item initially said academic freedom should be included in Pitt’s mission statement, but after some discussion was amended to the “better articulate academic freedom” language. The third item also was amended to reflect that the University will “continue to” protect academic freedom against all threats, internal and external, which it has already been obligated to do.
Abbe de Vallejo, a School of Medicine faculty member, championed the new resolution after researching how visibly other universities featured academic freedom policies. Rejecting a call to table the resolution to further explore the mission statement placement issue, De Vallejo agreed to tweaking some of the language.
“Nobody is against academic freedom,” he said. “What we are saying is that we want this much more visible. I actually did a Google search myself, and the only thing you can find about academic freedom mentioned is in the front page of the Board of Trustees and the 2003 statement from the provost.
The resolution borrows language and ideas from other institutions including Johns Hopkins University and Carnegie Mellon University.
Kris Kanthak, Faculty Assembly vice president, commented on a recent release from CMU regarding its report on, and visibility of, its academic freedom policy.
“And they have six recommendations that they make that I think make a lot of sense,” she said. “They articulate academic freedom and freedom of expression as core university values, which I think is something that we all can agree on. Even if we can’t agree on the mission statement thing.”
“The tactic we took on it,” Carey Balaban said, “it was important to get the issue forward, less important for us to argue about where it should be.”
The resolution passed with 32 yes votes, zero no votes and two abstentions.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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